Students Are Speed Geeking

During last year’s edJEWcon conference (a Teaching & Learning Institute for Jewish Educators, which  I help organize with Andrea Hernandez and Jon Mitzmacher) we invited our Middle School students to attend our keynote session with Heidi Hayes Jacobs. We all watched magic happen, when students (without being asked) created their own backchannel and added their perspective to the conversation about THEIR learning.

When it came time to plan for this year’s edJEWcon, I wanted to make sure we involved our students not just by accident, but  strategically and purposefully.

I originally read about the idea of Speed Geeking for Professional Development from Kim Cofino on her blog Always Learning. She described the process in the post Take Your Faculty Speed Geeking. The idea is based on Speed Dating, where people get to “know/learn about” many different people in a short amount of time. (We talk a lot about motivating students, giving students a voice, engaging students in their learning. We need to talk less and act more.). The idea of Speed Geeking seemed to be the perfect opportunity and platform.

I enlisted the help of our 4th & 5th grade Language Arts teacher, Stephanie Teitelbaum. We presented the idea of participating and becoming teachers to teachers during edJEWcon to students.

  • Anyone interested in being part of the Geek team, was asked to submit a proposal/outline to demonstrate knowledge and teaching skills of a tool, app, program or device.
  • Once a proposal was accepted, the students needed to get permission from their parents, since the session would take place during a non-school day and we needed a commitment that they would be brought to school at a given time.
  • The “geek” was asked to prepare a flyer and guide (tutorial) to support their presentation during the speed geeking session.
  • With the flyer/guide created, students were asked to present live to each other and us, demonstrating that they had thought through and practiced their geek session.
  • We met two times during school hours to discuss, prepare and rehearse. Students brought their own ideas (ex. dressing up with nerd classes, wearing suspenders, creating nametags, etc.)


Seven students were accepted into our Speed Geeking team for edJEWcon.

  • Benjamin taught how to create a QR code with and what he uses QR codes for
  • Samantha shared her favorite tool Frames for storytelling and tutorial design
  • Eliana surprised everyone with Skitch and all its uses
  • Rebecca (5th grade) mesmerized attendees with her wisdom of blogging and commenting
  • Jamie was a hit by showcasing her expertise with iMovie on her iPad and by making entertaining everyone with her funny and witty personality
  • Ariella took even experienced PowerPoint users by surprise as she shared advanced tips
  • Rebecca (4th grade) shared her favorite program Pixie and in addition left everyone in awe with her ability of using a computer keyboard and trackpad up side down

They had 5 minutes to share their chosen tool, program or framework that they, as students, use at school to create and demonstrate evidence of their learning. Attendees were encouraged to ask any questions they had.



Each “Geek” sat around a table, ready to demonstrate and Q&A, before attendees moved on to the next Geek station.











Take a look at his short VIDEO to get a feel for the session.

Below is a “paper tweet”, as overheard from one of the session attendees.


Take a look at the Twitter stream with commentary from other participants of the Speed Geeking session.

speedgeeking-1 speedgeeking-2 speedgeeking-3 speedgeeking-4 speedgeeking-5 speedgeeking-6 speedgeeking-7 speedgeeking-8 speedgeeking

A wonderful blogging conversation ensued on Ken Gordon’s blog, All the Rest Is Commentary: Getting Schooled by a Day Schooler, as he reflected on the Speed Geeking session, specifically on the “blogging table” with Rebecca:

My wooziness owes itself chiefly to a child named Rebecca… who spoke to me, and a sizable number of JDS professionals, of her lucid, reasonable, and ethically minded philosophy on blog commentary.

Rebecca knows things about blogging etiquette some people three and four times and five times her age don’t know.

How does she manage this?

Not only was Rebecca able to articulate, present, interact and amaze her audience, but she also practiced what she preached by leaving a quality, thoughtful comment for Ken Gordon (on HIS blog) to continue the conversation in digital spaces.

My take-away from our Geek Session

I felt extremely proud of each one of our students. I was able to stand back and enjoy watching them (not take a test, not perform) but just be. They were relaxed (with a little touch of nervousness during the first round) and OVERSTEPPED any expectations we had… and they knew it. We gave them space, an authentic audience, real world work and responsibility. Students were true and valued contributors to our conference (à la Digital Learning Farm). They was never the question “Why do we have to learn this?” The learning was embedded into the desire for a positive outcome. As teachers, we did not have to lament disengagement and lack of motivation. Students were on target, did not forget deadlines, demanded quality content of themselves (up until the morning of the session, I continued to receive updated and “better” versions of their flyers and resources) and continued to practice and rehearse on their own.  They showed ownership and demonstrated what I have been narrowing down as one of the most important skills of our times (aka 21st century): self-directed and self- motivated learning.

Does this mean that every one of our classrooms look like this? Do all of our lessons, units, assignments, projects, assessments, etc. demonstrate student voice, involvement and authentic work? Not yet… but we (and most importantly the students)  have tasted the honey.

I am thinking of speed geeking opportunities for my students:

  • to parents
  • at a retirement home
  • to pre-service teachers from the local university
  • feeder schools

What do you think?